This weekend at a yard sale, I came across a massive vintage pogs collection. And by massive I mean a four-pound red binder packed with sheets containing over five hundred pogs. And by four pounds, I mean it’s not like I weighed it on the scale, but this thing was hefty. And by all this I mean I’m going to rule the playground so hard with this totally sick 1990s pogs collection.
For many of us, pogs hit a nostalgia sweet spot. They were collectible cardboard caps with different pictures. They were also a game, but our interest in the game itself was often secondary, if existent at all. We collected the pogs to have. To brag about. To carry around in our pencil cases and plaid mini-bookbags. They were sold everywhere—in toy stores, comic book stores, in pharmacies, and in giant loose tubs at the craft store. Pogs even had their own stores sprout up, places in malls like “Pog City.” What started out as a Hawaiian game involving simple milkcaps mutated into a crazed fad and turned innocent children into frothing-at-the-mouth fiends for pogs.
Fad is almost too simplistic a word to describe what pogs were. Slap bracelets and starter jackets were fads. Tamagotchi pets and Furby toys were fads. Pogs were a currency in the dark underbelly of the playground circuit. Like everything fun, they were banned in many schools, as school administrators and the media proclaimed them a form of gambling. A New York Times article at the time reporting on the school bannings, described it as a “raucous recess game” that were causing fights on blacktops across the nation.
Raucous. Hardcore. You would cut a kid over a holographic poison black widow pog.
So what the heck was it? Pogs was a game where you threw a chunk of metal at pieces of cardboard to flip them over. You got to keep the caps you flipped over. That’s all it was. It was kind of like playing jacks, only it was the 1990s and instead of jacks, it was cardboard caps with pictures of trippy yin-yang symbols. We went nuts for them. No—we went batshit insane for them. We went batshit insane for jacks.
Instead of a rubber ball, you used a slammer, which was a heavier version of a pog made of rubber, plastic, or metal. Slammers could be as colorful and collectible as the milkcaps. A slammer shaped like a ninja star was among the most notorious types, quickly confiscated in schools as deadly weapons.
Slammers were a special sort of pride. Go ask any twenty-five to thirty year old to describe the slammer they used to have and their face will light up. While pogs were often dirt cheap, ranging in price from ten cents to a fifty cents a piece, slammers were more expensive, so kids generally only had one or two. My slammer had a cartoon caricature of OJ Simpson’s mugshot. My mother hated it and thought it was inappropriate, which made me like it even more. This is how kids rebelled in the 90s.
I wasn’t even a kid by the mid-1990s. I was in the eighth grade when pogs happened—but not even middle-schoolers could resist the charms of small cardboard game pieces with floating yin-yang symbols and flying eight balls. Or maybe it was just me. And apparently I still cannot resist their charms, because I knew I was going to buy that four-pound binder the moment I laid eyes on it.
The lady was asking five bucks, which at first I thought was exorbitantly overpriced because I am the kind of sneering person who wants to buy this massive totally sick 1990s pog collection for a dollar and no more. But of course, there was no way I was going to leave it behind, so five dollars it was.
First off, before we even see a single pog, just look at the decorated binder. This kid was proud of their pog collection. Real proud. It’s a capsule of pure joy. The stickers and labels scream with sincerity and enthusiasm. If any of us could muster just a shred of this kid’s enthusiasm for anything in our lives, we could accomplish mindblowing things. We could probably cure cancer in like five minutes with happiness. We could save every endangered animal and even the ones that are already extinct. And we could probably eat as much bread as we wanted and never get fat. That’s how amazing this book is.
I have to assume it’s a girl’s collection from the choices of duckling and panda stickers, as well as the trading cards in the back of binder majorly being comprised of Saved By The Bell: The New Class and 90210 cards. But make no mistake: her pogs came first, and she had a totally kick-ass collection that must have put everyone else to shame.
As you can see, every inch of this binder was decorated. The kid went all out with stickers. Inside are special pog-protecting sheets, all the pogs carefully arranged by characters and themes. This whole thing is my new secret weapon. Anytime I’m feeling down and sad, all I have to do is flip through this book of awesomeness and grooviness.
Now let’s check out some of the pogs. You can also click on the pictures to see them larger.
Pogs often featured characters from popular TV shows and movies, as you can see here.
Of course Disney got in on the pog game:
Other series of pogs included eightballs and the number eight. It was some weird misguidedly mystical stuff, which we just ate up because we were children of the ’90s and we were always trying to expand our minds through Magic Eye Picture books and Ouija boards.
Then there was a “poison variety” which usually featured dark, occultish imagery like skulls and grim reapers. Summer of ’67 gone nightmarishly wrong. Something like that.
Then there were the types that were just oh so very poggy—little microcosms of the early 1990s itself.
Here is my favorite sheet in the entire book:
Pogs ruled. For about a year or two. We accumulated a few hundred a piece, won a few, and maybe even stole a few. And then we put them away, deep into the depths of closets and never spoke of them again. That’s how today’s kids are gonna feel about those Silly Bands bracelets, or how kids in the past felt about their pet rock collection. It’s a rite of passage, and pogs were ours.
Check out The Surfing Pizza Facebook page, where I’ve posted pictures of all five hundred pogs. And while you’re over there, why don’t you make it official and “like” the page?